State briefs for December 7

Honolulu condos must comply now with new fire safety rules

HONOLULU — Honolulu high-rise condominium owners won’t get more time to comply with stricter fire safety rules enacted after an apartment fire in 2017 killed four people.

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The city council failed this week to get enough votes to override Mayor Kirk Caldewell’s veto of a bill that would have given high-rise building condo owners without fire sprinklers in their units an extra two years to comply.

A law requiring high-rise buildings to perform and comply with fire safety evaluations was enacted earlier this year.

It was prompted by the fire that raged through the 35-story Marco Polo building in July 2017, killing four people. The building was not equipped with sprinklers. It was built in 1971, before the city required condo projects to have a sprinkler system.

The law signed in May requires all buildings of 10 stories or more to conduct fire safety evaluations within three years and take steps to follow the evaluations within six years. The council unanimously passed a bill last month to push back the evaluation and implementation deadline.

Caldwell said last week that extending the timeline would put people at risk, especially senior citizens living on fixed incomes in buildings without sprinkler systems.

“I’m not backing away from that. And I’m sensitive to our seniors that live in high-rises,” Caldwell said. “I don’t want them to die. I don’t want them to burn alive. I want to save them. And, yes, it may cost some money to do so, but it’s nowhere near what people are saying.”

Before the council vote this week, Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves asked the council members to let the veto stand. He said the Marco Polo fire was one of the worst days of his life. He sent 120 firefighters into the blaze.

“We had two maydays and a mayday is when a firefighter is either lost or they think they’re going to die,” Neves told the council. “We were lucky we didn’t have any injuries. But sprinklers buy time and what time buys is life.”

Whales have worse than average year for entanglement in gear

PORTLAND, Maine — Federal officials say last year was slightly worse than average for the entanglement of large whales, which is a major threat to the animals’ populations.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report Thursday on the subject. The agency says the number of cases nationally was 76, and that 70 entanglements involved live animals, while the rest were dead. The 10-year average is closer to 70 entanglements.

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The agency says about 70 percent of the confirmed cases were attributable to fishing gear, such as traps, nets and fishing line.

NOAA says entanglements happened along all U.S. coasts except for the Gulf of Mexico. Entanglement is a major concern for jeopardized species such as the North Atlantic right whale. The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium estimates that about 411 of the whales remain.

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